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The Art of War


Sun Tzu's 2,000 year old principles are as relevant today as they were back then. Whether in business, sports, war, or any other field, taking care of the small decisions as well as deception, disguise and diversion are all required for success.

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Key Takeaways

  1. Lived from 544 to 496 BC and was a very successful general even in his own time
  2. He who relies solely on warlike measures shall be exterminated; he who relies solely on peaceful measures shall perish
  3. Art of War was written for King Ho Lu
  4. Sun Tzu was revered by all Chinese military leaders for centuries and used his teachings
  5. Many think of China as the largest peace-loving nation on earth but forget about her turbulent, violent times thousands of years ago (had built the great wall and had a huge standing army before Rome's first legion existed!)
  6. The book is a culmination of a process, not a single event - many people
  7. Require a different context for different strategies
  8. Western philosophy is dualistic - creator/created - whereas Eastern is more unified. Western assumes an act of creation and a time goal, whereas Chinese think of change/continuity as equally real . All is interconnected, every thing is what it is at the pleasure of everything else
  9. Static vs. dynamic - the world of mathematics vs. the world of dynamics - always changing and flowing, shaping and being shaped
    1. Why need flexibility in dealing with situations - things always changing. One must find security by revisiting and redefining one's own strength by immediate yet unannounced responsiveness to the enemy's shifting position
  10. There is a holism, a symbiosis where service to oneself and one's community are the same
  11. Shih - full concentrated release of latent energy inherent in one's position, physical, or otherwise (strategic advantage)
  12. War, force is always a last resort. Given that warfare is always defeat, the commander in pursuing the best possible outcome seeks to disarm the enemy without every joining him on the battlefield.
  13. Victory must be a predetermined certainty. As a consequence, the able commander is not the one who is celebrated for daring and courage, for his victory requires neither
    1. Victory can be anticipated, but it cannot be forced
    2. Know the other, know yourself, And the victory will not be at risk; Know the ground, know the natural conditions, and the victory can be total
  14. One is weak because he makes preparations against others; he has strength because he makes others prepare against him
  15. The consummate commander is able to achieve and retain control of a military situation in a way analogous to an able ruler's control of the civil situation and a farmer's control of his crops: by a thorough understanding of the conditions determining the situation and the manipulation of these circumstances to his chosen end
  16. The best military strategy is to attack strategies; the next to attack alliances; the next to attack soldiers; the next to attack walled cities
  17. War is such that the supreme consideration is speed, speed in timing, in short duration of battle, in decision making
    1. Velocity
  18. Yin - yin requires sensitivity to register the full range of forces that define one's situation, and, on the basis of this awareness, to anticipate the various possibilities that can ensue. Adaptability refers to the conscious fluidity of one's own disposition. One can only turn prevailing circumstances to account if one maintains an attitude of readiness and flexibility. One must adapt oneself to the enemy's changing posture as naturally and as effortlessly as flowing water winding down a hillside
  19. Harmony - It is the capacity to anticipate the patterned flow of circumstance, to encourage those dispositions most conducive to a productive harmony, and ultimately to participate in negotiating a  world order that makes best advantage of its creative possibilities. Harmony is attained through the art of contextualizing
  20. Leadership
    1. All situations consequence of a dynamic process of organically related, mutually determining conditions
    2. To be reliable, information must be firsthand and there is a key relationship between intelligence and timing. Once the specific time has past, information loses its strategic function and importance, and at best retains only historical value. Ideally, effective intelligence provides clear discernment of the enemy's situation and a full concealment of one's own
    3. The object of military management is to effect a unified standard of courage. The principle of exploiting terrain is to get value from the soft as well as the hard. Thus, the expert in using the military leads his legions as though he were leading one person by the hand. The person cannot but follow
    4. The business of waging war lies in carefully studying the designs of the enemy
    5. Go first for something that the enemy cannot afford to lose and do not let him know the timing of your attack. Revise your strategy according to the changing posture of the enemy to determine the course and outcome of the battle
  21. 5 terrain - tao, climate, terrain, command, regulation
  22. Factors in the art of warfare - calculations, quantities, logistics, balance of power, possibility of victory 

What I got out of it

  1. Amazing how certain principles will always be relevant and Sun Tzu's Art of War is no exception. Although his examples are all based on warfare, these can be translated into any field. Great read

1 - Laying Plans
  • Five constant factors to be taken into account when determining the conditions in the field
    • Moral law (people to be in accordance with the ruler)
    • Heaven (phenomena which cannot be planned for)
    • Earth (distances, danger, open grounds, etc.)
    • The commander (stands for virtues of humanity, uprightness of mind, self respect/control, wisdom, sincerity)
    • Method and discipline (proper rank, discipline...)
  • All warfare is based on deception - when most able to attack, appear weak
  • If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him, if he is superior in strength, evade him
  • If easily angered - anger him, if forces united - separate them, attack when he is unprepared
2 - Waging War
  • Though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays (tardiness can never be anything but foolish)
  • Prolonged warfare never benefited anybody
  • He who does not know the evils of war cannot appreciate its benefits
  • Soldiers must be rewarded, kindly treated and kept healthy
3 - Attack by Strategem
  • Capturing a country or regiment whole, rather than destroying it, is much more preferable
  • Supreme excellence lies in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting
  • Worst strategy of all is to besiege walled cities
  • 10 to 1 - surround, 5 to 1 - attack
  • Kingdom should not be governed from without and army should not be directed from within
  • 5 essentials for victory
    1. Knowing when to fight and when not to fight
    2. How to handle both superior and inferior forces (difficult ground for inferior forces
    3. Whose army is more animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks
    4. Can take the enemy unprepared
    5. Has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign
  • If you know the enemy and yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. if you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle
  • Attack is the secret of defense; defense is the planning of an attack
4- Tactical Dispositions
  • Hide your dispositions and you will be victorious
  • Secure success by modifying his tactics to meet those of the enemy
  • The opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself
  • Key to "see the plant before it has germinated" - foresee events before they happen
  • A clever fighter is one who not only wins but one who wins with ease
  • The skillful fighter puts himself in a position which makes defeat impossible (seeing future, making no mistakes) and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy
  • The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won
  • Leader must lead by example
5 - Energy
  • The control of a large force is the same principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers (regiments)
  • The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy so that he cannot fathom our real intent
  • Cheng - any attack or operation on which the enemy has had his attention fixed
  • Chi'i - takes the enemy by surprise or comes from an unexpected quarter
  • There are not more than 5 musical notes/colors/tastes but give rise to more than ever be heard/seen/tasted. Same goes for warfare even though only 2 methods of attack
6 - Weak Points and Strong
  • A good soldier fights on his own terms or not at all
  • The general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack (art of war in a nutshell)
  • Everybody can see superficially how a battle is won but cannot see the long series of plans and combinations which has preceded the battle
  • Warfare must be fluid like water as there are no constant conditions
7 - Maneuvering
  • Must have harmony between the higher and lower ranks before battle begins
  • The difficulty of tactical maneuvering consists in turning the devious into the direct and misfortune into gain
  • Ponder and deliberate before you make a move
  • He will conquer who has learnt the artifice of deviation
  • Presence of mind is the general's most important asset
8 - Variation in Tactics
  • In hemmed in situations you must resort to stratagem. In desperate positions you must fight
  • Do not rely on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming but on your own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable
  • 5 dangerous faults which might affect a general
    1. Recklessness
    2. Cowardice
    3. Hasty temper
    4. Over solicitude for his men
    5. Delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame
9 - The Army on the March
  • The ideal commander unites culture with a warlike temper; the profession of arms requires a combination of hardness and tenderness
10 - Terrain
  • General exposed to six calamities - flight, insubordination, collapse, ruin, disorganization and rout
  • Secret of getting successful work out of your trained men lies in one nutshell - in the clearness of the instructions they receive
  • The best generals advance without coveting fame and retreat without fearing disgrace
  • Those who join in every hardship as his common soldier will be loved, respected and followed
11 - The Nine Situations
  • Nine varieties of ground
    1. Dispersive - fighting own territory
    2. Facile - enemy territory but close to home
    3. Contentious - owning this land offers great advantage
    4. Open - each side has liberty to move
    5. Ground of intersecting highways - connects several different regions/countries
    6. Serious - deep into enemy territory
    7. Difficult - forests, marshes, etc.
    8. Hemmed-in - strategically advantageous and few smell can conquer many
    9. Desperate - can only survive by fighting without delay
  • Rapidity is the essence of war
  • Prohibit the taking of omens and remove superstitions. Then, until death itself comes, no calamity need be feared
12 - The Attack by Fire
  • Unless you venture into the tiger's den, you cannot get the tiger's cubs
  • 5 ways to attack with fire
    1. Burn soldier's camp
    2. Burn stores
    3. Burn baggage trains
    4. Burn arsenals and magazines
    5. Set camp afire from afar
13 - The Use of Spies
  • To neglect the use of spies is nothing more than a crime against humanity 
  • The goal of war is peace
  • 5 classes of spies - local, inward (enemy officials), converted (converting enemy's spies to do own bidding), doomed (hire spy and give false impression and then let enemy know of spy so they extract the wrong information he knows), surviving (what we normally think of when think of spy)
  • Converted spies most important and should be paid/treated that way
  • Usage of spies, while often leads to great results, can also lead to utter destruction

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